‘We show up, do our thing and then we’re gone’
Taking their cue from the flash mobs who assemble suddenly in a public place, sing and dance for a brief time and then quickly disperse, this group of local women call themselves The Trash Mob.
“We show up, do our thing and then we’re gone,” said Laura Wyatt.
And when they leave, the area is no longer littered with cigarette butts, old batteries, food wrappers and other debris that can include bicycle parts, television sets and bean bag chairs.
“We average 16 full 13-gallon trash bags a month plus miscellaneous large items that don’t fit in the bags. In our first year, we have averaged close to 200 bags and more than 2,000 pounds of garbage,” said Mrs. Wyatt, founder of the mob, which meets at 10 a.m. the last Sunday of the month for 90 minutes.
“I usually scout out locations and coordinate with the city of Santa Barbara for possible cleanup sites and bag pick up. We frequent safe areas like the Zoo, Bird Refuge, Dwight Murphy field and Milpas near Cacique streets,” Mrs. Wyatt told the News-Press.
In the group are a lawyer, artist, property manager, philanthropists, director of outreach and education at the Community Environmental Council, event planner, interior decorator and board president and CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara.
The core group includes Leslie Bhutani, Baret Boisson, Mary Anne Contreras, Michele Cuttler, Lucia Engel, Laura Johnston, Kathi King, Debby Peterson, Rubi Ramirez, Julia Rodgers and Jessica Schaeman.
“Ever since I joined the Trash Mob, I can’t go anywhere without seeing trash. It has opened my eyes and made me aware of things I never noticed before,” said Ms. Schaeman.
Ms. Peterson said she “loves participating with the Trash Mob because every month we get a chance to get together as a group and do something that makes a difference for Santa Barbara. We love saving trash from going into the ocean and making our community cleaner and more beautiful. It’s a great way to connect with my friends doing something positive for the environment and our community and seeing the concrete results we can produce in just a few hours. Sometimes it seems overwhelming to make a difference, and this is a way we know we can contribute in a small but real way. It feels like a privilege to give back to our beautiful town and help keep our streets and ocean clean!”
“To be of service is a gift. The opportunity to make a positive impact in our uniquely beautiful hometown is a gesture of gratitude that brings some balance to the abundance,” said Ms. Johnston.
Occasionally, friends or family will join the outings. McCailey Contreras was one of them, Mrs. Wyatt said.
“After the first hour, she said, ‘Geez, Mom! I had no idea how much work this was.’ At the end of the day, she said, ‘I’m so glad we did this. It feels really good to clean up our city, doesn’t it?’”
Mrs. Wyatt said she began picking up trash during one of her weekly walks for exercise, which she has been doing for 10 years.
“I saw a plastic bag in the bushes and picked it up. As I walked, I noticed more trash and put it in the bag, which filled quickly. The next time I walked I took my own bag. Soon, I was bringing more bags that were larger,” she said.
When friends heard about what she was doing, they asked to join her, and soon Mrs. Wyatt was celebrating her October birthdays with trash parties.
“We collected trash and then had breakfast at a local restaurant,” she said. “Recently, we celebrated our first anniversary as the Trash Mob with a brunch at my house the last Sunday of the month, but there was no trash pickup. I wanted to thank the group for all their help.”
She hopes people will be inspired to start their own Trash Mobs.
“It’s social, you get exercise, and you help keep trash and toxins out of the ocean. You can contact Santa Barbara Channelkeeper or Looking Good Santa Barbara to get supplies and find help getting started,” she said.
Although Mrs. Wyatt admits that the work is “grimey and gross, not pleasant,” she finds it “rewarding and fulfilling. No one is sure who said the quote ‘Golf is a good walk spoiled,’ but my take is ‘Trash spoils a good walk.’ “